Politics Blinds Us to Pesky Facts: Study

Ezra Klein examines the intellectual abyss of partisanship

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 7, 2014 12:11 PM CDT | Updated Apr 7, 2014 1:57 PM CDT

(Newser) – Politicians devote a lot of energy to what Ezra Klein calls the "More Information Hypothesis," the theory that voters would agree with them if they understood the issues better. But a 2013 study suggests that's not true, Klein points out at his launched-last-night site Vox. Researchers first polled the participants on their political ideologies and tested their math skills using a word problem about skin cream. Then they gave them some more word problems, about gun control and climate change. The result: Respondents were drastically more likely to arrive at the right answer if they agreed with it politically, and vice versa—and being better at math actually exacerbated their likelihood of getting it right or wrong depending on their political sensibilities.

The authors theorize that "humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth," like "ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe," Klein explains. If Sean Hannity changed his mind about climate change tomorrow, it would have profound personal costs. "He would lose friendships, viewers, and money. He could ultimately lose his job." He's incentivized to use his intellect to reinforce the ideology he socially identifies with—and to a lesser extent, that's true of almost everyone. Washington has made this easy; our two parties (or "tribes," per Klein) have developed "their own machines for generating evidence and their own enforcers of orthodoxy. It's a perfect storm for making smart people very stupid." Click for Klein's full column.

A blindfolded puppet is seen at an anti-war protest on the National Mall, Jan. 27, 2007.   (Shutterstock)
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More information doesn’t help skeptics discover the best evidence. Instead, it sends them searching for evidence that seems to prove
them right. - Ezra Klein

Kahan doesn’t find it strange that we react to threatening information by mobilizing our intellectual artillery to destroy it. He thinks it’s strange that we would expect rational people to do anything else. - Ezra Klein, referring to study
lead author Dan Kahan

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